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Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Following the Clinton administration’s announcement late last month that it was planning to designate thousands of acres of submerged lands in the territory as national monuments, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen said she will hold town meetings to gauge public sentiment on the plans.
On Dec. 22, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt sent his list of five monument designations to Clinton. For the territory it would mean the expansion of St. Croix’s Buck Island Reef National Monument and would give greater protection to about 12,500 acres of submerged lands north and south of St. John, home of the Virgin Islands National Park.
On Friday, Christensen said she will hold town meetings on St. John and St. Croix next week to get public comment on the proposed monument designations. Last August, Christensen introduced a bill in Congress that sought to transfer all the submerged lands between St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John to local control.
At the time, Christensen said she introduced the bill, which stalled in committee, as a way to let the federal government and, more precisely, the Interior Department know that the Virgin Islands doesn’t intend to be a pushover when it comes to mandates handed down from Washington. Her main concern then, as now, is for local fishermen.
"I wrote to President Clinton last month upon hearing about the Interior Department's impending expansion of the National Monument near St. Croix and St. John, to again voice my concern about the impact the designation will have on the livelihoods of our traditional fishermen, who are a vital part of our fragile economy," Christensen said. "I told the President that while I support the preservation of our coral reefs and other sensitive marine ecosystem resources, I believe that the livelihoods of traditional fishermen should be protected."
Christensen maintains that traditional fishermen run small operations and therefore their overall impact on the marine ecosystem is minimal in comparison to other detrimental sources, such as non-point source pollution. She also asked that special allowance be made to accommodate commercial fishermen and that compensation and special assistance be given for any adverse impact to any of them.
Christensen also said that local residents felt particularly discriminated against since more recent users such as the charter boat, game fishing and diving businesses will not be as affected as the traditional fishermen.
"I am not objecting to the monuments," she said. "I am asking that the scope of these areas be reduced and that every consideration and mitigation be given to these issues."
Babbitt, who last visited the territory in September, is particularly concerned about the effects of overfishing on coral reefs. At Buck Island, additional monument status would push the protective boundary around the island out farther from its encircling and unique barrier reef, the sole reason the area was made a monument by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
At St. John, monument status would feature 12,500 acres that includes "all the elements of a Caribbean tropical marine ecosystem" such as mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs, according to the Interior Department.
Interior’s move to protect U.S. coral reefs falls in line with the administration’s effort to further protect coral reef resources and fish spawning areas as part of President Clinton's Coral Reef Initiative.
The time and place of the town meetings will be announced on Monday, Christensen said.

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